Wollongong Athletics president Michael McClelland believes James Turner’s emphatic Rio 2016 gold medal triumph will inspire the region’s next generation of athletes.
Turner, who lives and trains in Wollongong, smashed the world record by three seconds on his way to winning the T36 cerebral palsy class 800m in a sensational time of 2:02.29 on Sunday.
“We are immensely proud of him,” McClelland said.
“He is not only a spectacular athlete, he is also a lovely guy that we love having around the club.
“He is a fantastic representative of the club.
“He is inspiring all our younger athletes and hopefully other people to get involved in the sport as well.”
Turner moved to the region from the mid-north coast to study mechanical engineering at the University of Wollongong.
After originally hoping to qualify with the Para-Roos, the 20-year-old turned his attention to track running.
“The Para-Roos didn’t make it to Rio and [Athletics Australia] sent me an email saying ‘Hey, do you want to run 800 metres? We think you could be pretty good at it’,” Turner said post-race.
“I gave it a shot. I guess I’m alright at it. I trained in athletics since I was about eight years old.
“I was always very competitive with my twin sister Hayley. And she was always better than me. So that pushed me to get better.”
Turner led from start to finish in his gold medal victory, with silver medallist Paul Blake of Great Britain finishing almost seven seconds behind him.
The performance came as no surprise to McClelland, who has watched Turner continue developing as an elite runner since moving to Wollongong last season.
“He didn’t come to us and say ‘hey I am going to be awesome and win a medal, can you help me out?’ He just came as a real great guy who was interested in participating,” McClelland said.
“He has a great attitude and we love having him around the club.
“It was only as he got further into his athletic career with thought this guy is really going to go somewhere.”
McClelland’s gold medal comes after Werri Beach cyclist Amanda Reid won silver last week.